Thailand is known for many things, including breathtakingly beautiful islands, majestic elephant sanctuaries, a vibrant and colorful culture, and even spicy food.
But if you ever come to Thailand for vacation (and a lot of us are, with about 20 million foreign visitors each year and Bangkok, Thailand now even surpassing New York and Paris on some international destination lists), then you’ll understand quickly that Thais are remarkably adept at something else: commerce.
In fact, I’ve been extremely impressed by how entrepreneurial Thais are. Whether by nurture or nature, they are prolific at recognizing opportunities, thinking like CEOs, and getting their hustle on to make a buck. There is no “victim’s mentality” in Thailand and most people sure don’t stop as ask for permission before building a small business or starting a venture to help secure their future.
Instead, they vigorously wash the windows on the new shop they’re opening, attach a soup cart to a motorcycle and start driving around, or look at their washer and dryer at home and see a burgeoning laundry business.
Unfortunately, sometimes that entrepreneurial verve goes a little too far, as Thailand is also one of the biggest countries in the world (along with China and North Korea) for manufacturing and selling counterfeit goods.
From Gucci purses to Bose headphones, Nike sneakers to Rolex watches, you’ll find the night markets and street corners in Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya littered with high-end knock-offs. No matter that most of them are selling the same 100 products or so, there are thousands and tens of thousands of shops, kiosks, tables, and vendors just about everywhere in Thailand, making money off of selling counterfeit goods.
The detriment is to the brands, of course, but the Thai police don’t care at all (since they are usually paid off – a regular business practice in Thailand), and all of this stuff is all out in the open without hiding.
Tourists and foreigners absolutely love the prices, as they can have a Rolex (or a “Folex”) on their wrist for $50 – not $5,000 – that only a few people could discern upon close examination.
The quality, however, can be another issue.
The stuff usually falls apart quickly. The audio speakers, for instance, work correctly except you’ll notice that the bass is nowhere near as good as real Bose or JBL, and at higher volumes, the sound cracks.
The iPhone cord you buy will work fine…for a while, until it begins to lose connection, and then you’ll receive an error message that it’s not compatible with your device – if it doesn’t fray and stop working, first.
But if you’re buying a Nike t-shirt, who cares about the quality? As long as you realize that you get what you’re paying for (and haggle, bargain,and negotiate a lower price like your life depends on it), then it’s a consumer’s dream.
I’ve also heard that there are three levels of knock-offs or counterfeit goods.
Level A includes the goods that are made in the same factories as the true and original products (Thailand is a major manufacturing hub for world brands), with the same materials and on the same machines. However, they’re not “official,” so the quality may be 70-90% of the originals, which is still pretty good.
Level B are the items that are made with marginal materials or shortcuts (glue instead of stitching) and cheap parts, but they still work or are useful for a period. These are maybe 30-70% of the quality of the originals.
Level C are just plain junk. Many of them come from China and more care goes into the box and making the product look like the real thing than the hollow insides. These products usually work long enough for you to get them home before quitting on you. The quality is 10-30% of the original products.
Be careful what you buy, and where, in Thailand.
For instance, you don’t want to buy a counterfeit iPhone and think it’s going to work.
There are also other complications, as if you bring in more than one, the TSA at the U.S. airport when you come home will actually flag you for having these goods (remember that they x-ray each checked bag). I’ve known plenty of people who were traveling home with five knockoff purses or a dozen watches but were stopped in the airport. When they couldn’t produce receipts and certificates of authenticity, their goods were confiscated – and you can even face huge fines!